Andrew Weatherall changed British music – and shunned the fame and glory he deserved

The musician and DJ Andrew Weatherall, who has died aged 56 - Prescription PR/PA
The musician and DJ Andrew Weatherall, who has died aged 56 - Prescription PR/PA

Andrew Weatherall, the DJ and producer who has passed away at age 56, didn’t look the part of the superstar deck-spinner. In his later years he cultivated an endless woodsman’s beard, the sort in which you expect to find small birds nesting.

In his younger days, he favoured military-style cargo shorts and buzz-cuts. He was a perpetual outsider in a world dominated by scenesters and name-droppers. As he looked, so he acted.

Weatherall stood apart as the cult of the megaclub went interstellar in the 1990s. He could have been as big as Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling, Carl Cox or any of the rest of his peers – but he chose not to be.

And yet he had a hand in some of the most influential records of the era. A celebrated 1990 remix of Soon by My Bloody Valentine hoisted the mopey shoe-gazers from their bedsits to the dance floor. And he collaborated with the two great comedown acts of the time, Beth Orton and One Dove, producing much of the latter’s extraordinary Morning Dove White album (1993).

But in the obituaries, it will be Weatherall’s work with Primal Scream that looms most prominently. Before Weatherall got his hands on “The Scream”, they were just another bunch of indie no-hopers signed to another no-hoper indie label (Alan McGee’s Creation).

Unlike others, he saw something in Bobby Gillespie and Andrew Innes and their jangling pop. His obsession with the group had begun when he was given a copy of their self-titled second album by his manager Jeff Barrett, also Creation’s long-suffering press officer.

“He couldn’t get any press on it or anything, everybody hated it,” Weatherall would say. “I took it away and I think I was literally the only person in the world that liked it.”

He took it upon himself to remix his favourite cut by the band – a droning, Stooges-esque stomper called I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have. Everyone else heard second-hand noise. Weatherall, going deeper, detected something else. A chiming riff towards the end, in particular, got inside his head and refused to leave. He dismantled the track and rebuilt it from the ground up.

Thus was born Loaded, Primal Scream’s first big hit and a certified banger that to this day stands at the nexus of rave, indie rock, shoe-gaze and Rolling Stones-blues revivalism. The song is stunningly simple and yet contains multitudes. All of pop history in fact.

“I didn’t realise how little I knew,” said Weatherall, who was born in Berkshire, and had initially juggled a career in furniture removal with DJing stints. “I didn’t know how to programme drum machines. I knew what worked on the dance floor.”

He collaborated with the band throughout their follow-up LP, Screamadelica. It was one of the most important British records of the Nineties and winner of the inaugural Mercury Music Prize in 1992. The sensibility it communicates is as much that of Weatherall as of the band. Screamadelica is simultaneously blissed-out and uncompromising, shiny-eyed and pugilistic. It’s a dance album infused with the obstinate spirit of punk.

“There was a lot of luck involved,” recalled Weatherall of that period of his career. “That’s why Screamadelica is such a magic album. It’s one of those times when lots of random molecules bump into each other. That doesn’t happen every day, and it just shows you the random nature of how we did that record. The best albums are like that.”

Primal Scream initially found it hard to navigate their sudden success. As a creative force, they didn’t really get it together again until they kicked the drugs, ahead of 1997’s Vanishing Point.

Weatherall had a different challenge, in so far as he wasn’t interested in cashing in on the fame that Screamadelica brought. And yet the project had introduced an entire generation of rock fans to clubbing. Not for the first time, he had ended up front-and-centre of a scene about to go massively (and lucratively) mainstream.

Weatherall had been there already with rave. He’d caught the ear of Danny Rampling, founder of the original acid house club Shoom, when he’d spun a 12-inch by former Throbbing Gristle leaders Chris and Cosey at a party.

Soon he was running with the future megastars of the scene. A bright future loomed for all. Weatherall organised events and put out records as part of the Junior Boy’s Own collective, which championed the soon-to-be-huge Underworld and Chemical Brothers. But when his peers started to be anointed as his generation’s rock stars, Weatherall’s gag reflex kicked in.

“DJs? Heroes? Are people really that desperate?” he later said. “I know people want heroes, but seriously, this is ridiculous.”

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Instead of larging it in Ibiza, he retreated to the studio and, with his Sabres of Paradise project, made 1994’s Haunted Dancehall. One of the great chill-out records of the early 1990s, it spliced dub and reggae with John Carpenter-style horror movie soundtracks. Incredibly, it entered the UK top 100 charts, and was critically acclaimed.

But Weatherall was already moving on. He had little patience with the commercial, hands-in-air sets with which other DJs were cashing in. I caught one of his gigs at a festival and staggered away feeling as though I had been brutalised. It was unrelenting – a militaristic onslaught of bleeps, squiggles and grooves, with Weatherall (head down, lips pursed) the stern conductor at the heart of the chaos.

He spent the rest of his life moving uneasily between these different incarnations. Beth Orton, at their height of her early fame, had Weatherall produce three songs on her debut album, Trailer Park. He meanwhile killed off Sabres of Paradise and formed Two Lone Swordsmen with Keith Tenniswood; in 2004, they released the Joy Division-esque From The Double Gone Chapel.

The point, it seemed, was to never repeat himself, never stay still long enough to be lumped in with any particular scene or movement. Weatherall was restless and relentless, pathologically averse to dining out on old glories.

“It’s a job, not a career,” he said last year. “I get praise, sometimes, for sticking to my ideals. ‘You could have been a superstar DJ!’ But then it becomes a career.

“I didn’t want to end up not liking music. I do serious work. [But] I’ve still got that attitude I had when it first started – that this is going to end in six months. I want it to be as much fun as possible.”